The front page of the Monday’s Plain Dealer was stunning. Deanne quickly went to our files and found the front page of the Plain Dealer from September 11, 2001. We wanted the kids, as they woke up, to remember the event from a decade ago and to attach the significance to the death of Osama bin Laden.
Osama bin Laden and the actions that followed from his leadership and his world view changed our lives: we live in fear now – no place is safe. The debris of 9/11 poisoned our politics; nobody trusts anybody any more. Far too many are suspicious of a President with an eerily similar name. This has led to the foolishness of conspiracies and the silliness of birth certificate fantasies. Osama bin Laden’s life altered the way we look at the world and our place in it and at religion – Radical Islam, “terror in the name of God”, our God against their God; wary of men in turbans and women in burkas, long lines at the airports, and high gas prices. Our wounds have not healed and the scar tissue still burns.
Stavros, our Head Custodian, shared with me that now that Osama is dead, perhaps people, who think he is from the Middle East, will stop looking at him suspiciously. Stavros is from Greece.
I don’t think one person has had as much influence on our lives as Osama bin Laden since perhaps Hitler, or maybe Stalin? (Why is it always men? Men who can’t find the ketchup (as I joked last week) but who spill so much blood (no joke there!))
I am glad that today we gather to praise the name of one man who has shaped our lives even more, or should have, then any one else in all of history, Jesus Christ – in whom we live and move and have our being. Jesus Christ – who gave his life for the sins of the world – who entered into the messiness of our fleshly lives, and the joys as well as the horrors of existence, who died a gruesome death at the hands of an oppressive power – not to condemn, not to separate the chosen saved from the rest of the reprobate, but to extend grace to all; even to Osama.
As Peter writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
“New birth,” “living hope,” a new way of perceiving the world, a new life; and it is Jesus Christ and the power of the resurrection, and the madness of the resurrection, and the glory of the resurrection that is making me feel all agitated this morning. For I allow too many things, other than Jesus, to shape my identity. I allow fear to shape my response and suspicion to alter my reality, and retribution to color my world.
The news of Osama bin Laden’s death left me feeling many things: relief that at last this bogey man is dead; Gladness that this individual who caused so much grief is gone; vindicated that “justice” was at last doled out; impressed that our intelligence and military forces could really bring this off; happiness that Americans can gather again in celebration and not point fingers at each other.
Yes, I guess I feel all of these things.
But then I saw the headline of the Daily Mail: “Rot in Hell!” it read. Does the gospel of Jesus Christ allow us to say that? And rejoicing at a killing? Definitely not part of my Christian value system.
I received an email on Monday morning from a friend who wrote me: “Um…am I supposed to feel happy that Osama bin Laden is dead? Just wondering.”
My quick answer was “Yes… but.” It is Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection and his words from the cross “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” that keeps me wondering.
I was at the gym on Monday and a man who I often see but do not know well asked me: “Aren’t you happy that they got Osama?” And I answered: “Yes, but, in my Christian tradition we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” And he actually scoffed, and said “Please, Christians have been killing the enemy for centuries.” And all I could say is: “I know, and it always leaves me burdened.”
President Obama’s words about “Justice” left me wondering too. I get it – Osama’s death was justified in some way, he deserved it. But is Osama’s death really justice for 3,000 innocents killed, or 5,000 soldiers killed. Is God happy now? I doubt it. Biblical justice, prophetic justice, the justice Jesus taught and lived was not about retribution, it is about restoration. This killing is more like “an eye for thousands of eyes! And a tooth for countless mouthfuls of teeth.”
Darn it, being a follower of Jesus, one who believes that Jesus died for all and trusts that no one is outside the mercy of God, even those who “make their bed in Sheol” – leaves me wondering before the mystery of it all. It was Stanley Hauweras who entitled his book “Resident Aliens.” And that title has always agitated me deeply for as followers of Jesus we have our lives in this world – fully incarnated just as Jesus was into the messiness of it all – with very little clarity, really, and yet we are not to be conformed to this world, as St. Paul writes, but we are to be “transformed by the renewing our your minds, so that you might discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)
And again Paul writes in his first letter to the church at Corinth: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.” No truer words were ever written. We are in the world with all its complexities but not of the world; our citizenship is from another place; never completely comfortable.
Whatever you are feeling, don’t dismiss the complexity. But this is a watershed moment I believe and with any complex moment there are paths that fork ahead of us, as Americans, as Christians, as individuals and as a community of faith. Will we take the opportunity to move in a new direction, recommitted to those things that are true and honorable and pure and just and gentle? Or will we simply fall back into the “yoke of slavery” of narrow thinking and suspicious living? As Christians we have been “called to freedom” (Galatians 5:13) into the abundance of holy living – this is the new life we have in the resurrection of Jesus. But St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Galatians “…only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” And he continues, “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
My brother Andy called me the day after Easter and said; “I have a theological dilemma. We go through Lent giving up certain things until Easter and then once Easter comes we give up giving up and we seem to rush back to our old behavior.” He continued (only partially “tongue in cheek”): “I gave up yelling at the kids but now that Christ has arisen I can really let them have it.” He said, “Aiden” (who is his son and my nephew) “…gave up hitting his little brother for Lent. On Easter he went over and slugged him.”
We laughed together but the question is a good one – we go through something and we are changed but do we carry on with the change, do we move forward into hope, or do we fall back into the slavery of fear? Journey onward into love, or simply return to bad habits?
Not that we are through the dangers of terrorism but now that we are in the post-Osama days and, more importantly for Christians, into the Easter season – how are we going to live? If the words of the Psalmist are true: “I love the Lord because he has heard my voice and my supplication” then what are we going to witness to? What is our new birth going to look like? Or will we simply return from our stint before the empty tomb unchanged?
You and I, in the name of Jesus Christ, must witness to gentleness and civility in our discourse. My prayer is that Osama’s death will make us fear just a bit less and be a bit less suspicious and you and I will say “no” to divisive radio and slanderous commentary and seek facts and discern with wisdom. You and I will think the best of each other and the best of the President, (past and present) even if you don’t agree with his policy. We will say no to the politics of slander.
We must become an even more hospitable church – and let our programs show and our building show and all our policies reflect that we are open to all.
More hospitable in the way of interfaith conversations; more hospitable in the way we talk about those things that divide us like race, and gender, and sexual orientation.
The call of Jesus Christ moves us to be peace makers, deep pray-ers, willing to sacrifice for the common good, not just to keep what we can – to be expansive not narrow. We have this opportunity to become ever more the people of God we yearn to be, to let the resurrection power of Jesus Christ push us and pull us and mend us and mold us into bold avenues of grace.
We have these lovely windows, freshly cleaned – and they should always remind us that we look out into the world and the world can look into us… and our doors are open both to welcome and to go forth and serve. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood – and that has to mean something today. We are not saved as disconnected individuals pursuing our own selfish needs – we are yeast in the dough and weedy seeds of mustard in the cultivated fields of the status quo, willing to take risks that fool the wise – all because of Jesus and the new life he brings.
I give thanks for the death of Osama bin Laden, but perhaps not for the usual reasons – his death doesn’t justify much – it is all a tragedy. I take no delight in any of this, but it is one of those times, those moments, a twinkling of a moment, perhaps a kairos moment (for God can use any moment) when you can and we can choose death or life, choose resurrection or head back into the tomb, we can chose liberation or slavery, choose to step into the light or scramble back into the darkness.
Choose life and hope and joy, in the name of Jesus Christ – who is the living Lord of all.